Other Pointers

Aiming Artists: Donald and Seonaid McIntosh

Živa Dvoršak

Apr 5, 2024

In a new interview in the Aiming Artists series, you will meet a fantastic father-daughter duo who has been rocking the sport shooting stage since 2013. The entire McIntosh family are rifle shooters: mom Shirley shot for GB and was 9th in Women’s Prone at the World Championships in 1994 and represented Scotland in the Commonwealth Games in the 1990s, coming home with 4 medals; older daughter Jen competed in the 2010s, winning too many medals to count and competing in two Olympic Games. Himself a rifle shooter, Donald has been coaching top-level British athletes since 2003. The youngest in the family, Seonaid, is proving to be even more successful, being crowned Britain’s most successful female rifle shooter of all time already in 2019. One of the proudest family moments must have been the 2017 European Championship in Baku, when Jen won the title in 50 m prone and Seonaid was champion in 50 m 3×20 event.

Birtish sport shooter Seonaid McIntosh with her father and coach Donald McIntosh in front of the Olympic circles in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village

First things first: Are you taking notes?

Seonaid: I am ashamed to say no. I really should and I do see the benefit but I just can’t seem to build the habit and stick with it. I do like to keep photos though so I at least have a visual record. I always struggle because I write down the settings (which is very helpful) but then they don’t change for months but the really important thing to record is how it feels. I’m not a great writer so I struggle to vocalise my feeling.
Donald: Yes, I keep notes of training sessions and competitions.  Usually I note any observations in training, changes made, or other things I think are important to record or that I might want to remember later on.  In competition I make some notes about preparations, things that happen in the competition, and details of scores and where any wide shots have gone. These help to then have a conversation about the competition afterwards, and I make some notes after that too.  All helps to look back on if we are trying to take a longer view of things that have happened.

How about setting goals? Do you do it, how and when?

Seonaid: We set goals at the start of the season for the season, at the start of each training block (every 4-6 weeks) and for every training session. I also have my goals for each competition and my bigger life goals too which I look at and update twice a year in January and in June.

Do you set up the season together or is Donald the one making the plans?

Seonaid: We do it together. If I let him do it by himself I would never get to be at home.
Donald: Possibly true.

Seonaid, how do you overcome stressful moments during a competition? What is your “SOS exit”? You used to play drums and perform on stage – how much are such or similar experiences helpful when you’re competing?

Seonaid: I use breathing techniques when I start to get very stressed in competitions. With music, when you are performing with other people you can’t just stop and start again you have to keep playing and it’s the same in shooting. It’s not so much about the mistakes you make but about how you recover from them. I found that my performances improved a lot when I realised that a competition is just a performance of a thing you have been practising for months and years (and decades for some).

IT IS NOT ABOUT THE MISTAKES YOU MAKE BUT ABOUT HOW YOU RECOVER FROM THEM.

British sport shooter Seonaid Mcintosh shooting 50 m prone

Donald, what do you do when you see your shooter having difficult moments?

Donald: If I can see things that might be contributing to the problem I will try to communicate things to focus on or improve on.  Sometimes I’ll ask Seonaid to step back and ask her about what she is seeing and feeling and try to provide a constructive way forward.

How do you cope with competition stress? Do you think a shooter can sense that you are nervous?

Donald: I am sure she can, but it’s not unusual so I think we are used to it.  I usually have music playing my earplugs, which helps, and taking notes gives me something to do.

Is there a line where familyhood ends and you switch to business?

Seonaid: Sometimes it’s hard to take your feelings out of things. Like sometimes I don’t want my dad to be upset so I don’t say something to him about the shooting but actually it comes out later and for the shooting I needed to have said something to my coach. But I also don’t like to take my feelings out of it all the time because I think that’s one of our advantages in working together.

Donald: Kind of, but we’ve been at this a while and the lines are blurred. It is easier to decide to exclude the shooting and talk about other things than the other way around at times.

What is your advice for shooters and for coaches? 

Seonaid: For shooters, I always say remember to breathe. It’s so important to remember to breathe and breathe properly both before shooting but also during.
For coaches, it’s hard for me to advise but I guess the best thing a coach can do is to be honest without being hurtful and to not take things personally if an athlete is angry or upset.

Donald: For shooters, I guess one thing to always remember is that progress is never linear – things never go well or smoothly all the time.  There are good times and challenging times, but it’s the overall trend that matters most.
For coaches, always try to listen to the athletes, but also to other voices – other coaches, athletes from other teams, other specialists and add their knowledge and experiences to your own.  If you think you’ve learned everything you can, or that you can’t learn anything else, it is time to stop.

You are a family known for reading fiction novels. Jen is even a published author! How about some sports (shooting) psychology books? Have you read any? Would you recommend some?

Seonaid: I haven’t read any personally, but I like podcasts and I can highly recommend the High-Performance Podcast by Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes. I also really like The Tao of Pooh and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse as sources of good wisdom that applies to everything, including shooting.

Donald: I’ve dipped into some, most of them quite a long time ago now, and I got more interested in skill acquisition and the development of expertise – the old model of 10,000 hours and all that – and I think that helped more than anything when I was first trying to develop as a coach.  I like Heinz & Gaby’s ‘Psyche of the Shot’ book, but I really should finish reading it!

British sport shooter Seonaid Mcintosh with her trademark blue hair shooting 10 m air rifle
A smiling British sport shooter Seonaid McIntosh

Seonaid McIntosh (1996) is a Scottish rifle shooter and Britain’s most successful female rifle shooter of all time. She clinched the title of World Champion in Women’s 50m Prone in 2018, set a world record in Baku 2023 in Women’s 50m 3P Final (subsequently been broken) and has been World No. 1 in both Women’s 10m Air Rifle and Women’s 50m 3P.

A smiling British sport shooting coach Donald McIntosh

Donald McIntosh (1966) is a former air- and small-bore rifle shooter, who won his most recent Scottish Championship in 2022 after a 22 year competition gap. A holder of the ISSF Pro Coach licence, he has been part of the Coaching Team GB at three Olympic Games (2012–2020 + hopefully 2024). Some of his proudest coaching moments include: coaching Matthew Thomson to World U21 Prone Championship in 2006, first World Cup medal from Neil Striton in 2008. Jen winning World Championship U21 Bronze in 2010 three days after his father died. Great results for Scotland at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, winning all the Prone events a long way from home in India. Jen and Seonaid winning European Championship in Baku three days apart in 2017.  Seonaid’s World Championship in 2018, her 2019 season, her World Cup medals in 2023 after so many difficult times 2020–2022.

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